Celebrating the holidays in Israel reflects all the reasons why I love living in Israel. Feeling part of the normative rhythm of my surroundings, I smell the change of seasons in the air. The advertisements shift their focus. Everyone on the bus and in the office discuss plans and recipes. It’s this cultural atmosphere of Judaism. It’s the completeness of traditions feeling current and sincere. The authenticity of the holiday season gives me another layer of gratitude besides the vacation time and spiritual renewal. The calendar in Israel stands as a logical order, not a burden of using sick days of work or school. I am here in Haifa, where I start my second year of Sherut Leumi as a tour guide in schools. I take note on my successes and missteps from my first year in Sherut, thankful for my growing experience in Aleh Negev, the rehabilitation village for adults with severe disabilities. I stand humbled before Hashem, focusing on my trust in his plan for me. I am ready for this new year of challenges because in our land, the challenges are the tools for improvement. The Israeli society of community has welcomed me in with love and support, appreciating my service and cheering me on for the guts to choose the path less traveled.
Rosh Hashana will be three consecutive days this year, just like last year. Yom Kippur will be on Shabbat, following suit to the pattern of our last day of atoning. The difference of this year is that as we step away from chag, we walk straight into a year-long chag with Hashem- Shmita. Personally extremely excited and nervous for the new Halachachic practices and tighter focus on Hashem, I study in anticipation. This year is my first time practicing Shmita, and as a proud Olah Chadasha, I am dumbfounded in the opportunity to connect to this land that I now inhabit. The usual excitement for chagim is now doubled as we greet the sabbatical year, breathing in our role in the partnership with our father.
As every bus, every pair of lips, every radio station voices “Shana Tova,” I consider the greeting/blessing/promise. After the most excruciating summer, we are still cleaning up our battle wounds. After losing so many husbands, fathers, children and fiancés; we are desperate for a sweet release from survival mode. Barely scraping by this summer, my tank is on empty. At certain pitches of noises, my heart jumps, shooting me with anxiety and resounding aches of the remnants of the war. And when I hear that Southern Israel received a few rocket attacks this week, I gasp in frenzy, terrified that the small break in this nightmare is ending. But then I catch my breath and center myself in the collage of the memories and know that despite the war, it was a good year. Despite the pain of the summer, I literally witnessed miracles every day. Despite Racheli Frankle’s son being kidnapped and murdered by Hamas, she teaches us that in Hashem’s confusingly complex world, there is goodness. Whether we are currently aware of the good, it is here. Despite the 72 Israeli deaths and 1,306 wounded, Israel’s population is reaching 9 million, thanks to the 24,000 new immigrants. Despite it all, we are here growing and flourishing.
Racheli Frankle says that we wish a “Shana Tova U’Metuka” because everything from Hashem is good, just not always with the sweet taste on our lips. We wish each other for honey to pour out of every moment, for us to see the beauty in the goodness and the joy in the future events. We bless each other because Hashem is listening to us and we believe in our influence in the partnership. We promise a good and sweet year because after a summer like the one we just experienced, anything would feel good and sweet.
We are starting a new year, washing off our missteps and regretful actions. We plead for forgiveness from Hashem but more impossibly, from ourselves. Even the idea of tshuvah feels too good to be true. It’s the battle to let go, to trust that the system of returning to a perfect start can actually exist in a spiritual relationship. I ask friends and family to forgive me for the barriers I have unthoughtfully placed in our relationships. I write a letter to Hashem, addressing the sins that I have committed, apologizing for my selfish acts and my apathetic waves. I continue and form a list for my goals of self-improvement and organization, filling my tank with hope and motivation. Thankful for it all, I play in the sand, meditating on the change in the wind, the opportunity for a new start. We are transitioning from defense mode, releasing the fears of the war. The cycle of time is now more relevant than ever and as I start my year of serving Israel, I refocus on the reasons guiding my actions and the sweetness found in the path.